Movie Discussion: Richard Franklin’s Patrick (1978)

  • Monthly Theme: Ozploitationpatrick_poster_02
  • The Film: Patrick
  • Country of origin: Australia
  • Date of Australian release: October 1, 1978
  • Date of U.S. release: September 7, 1979
  • Studio: Filmways Australasian, et al.
  • Distributer: Monarch Releasing Corporation
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: $400,000 (estimated)
  • Director: Richard Franklin
  • Producers: Antony I. Ginnane, et al.
  • Screenwriter: Everett De Roche
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Donald McAlpine
  • Make-Up/FX: Conrad Rothmann
  • Music: Goblin & Brian May
  • Part of a series? There was an unofficial Italian-produced sequel, 1980’s Patrick Still Lives.
  • Remakes? Yes. Mark Hartley directed a remake in 2013, starring Sharni Vinson.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: Grand Prize at the 1979 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. Best Director at the Siges-Catalonian International Film Festival.
  • Tagline: “Some people thought he was crazy, He appeared to be deaf, dumb and blind, None of them knew of the sixth sense: The power of PATRICK’s mind!”
  • The Lowdown: This week we tackle one of Australia’s true cult gems. Patrick follows Kathy (Susan Penhaligon), a young woman who reenters the nursing field after separating from her feckless husband and finds herself assigned to care for an uncanny coma patient named Patrick (Robert Thompson). She soon comes to realize that Patrick possesses malevolent psychic powers and has a habit of becoming sexually obsessed with his female caretakers. Soon Kathy and her many suitors are being terrorized by Patrick and Kathy must figure out a way to stop him. Reference in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and beloved by cult-movie essentialists (it even got an unauthorized Italian sequel in 1980), Patrick is a hard-to-find classic (it’s not available through Netflix at all).

If you haven’t seen Patrick our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: There are three things that must be said immediately about Patrick… 1. Did you know they are remaking this and Rachel Griffiths is playing the Matron Cassidy role? 2. This factoid about the movie that I read online: “In Italy, the film was rescored by Goblin.” 3. “I am Boss Cocky in this hospital!” 

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Portrait of the Artist as a Repressed Lesbian

Sean: 1) No, I did not know that, but that seems about right. I approve. 2) Italians be crazy and 3) Disgusting. But I did love Matron Cassidy and her speech about perverts working at the hospital.

Kristine: I loved that, too. Enema specialists. I love Matron, and I think there is a strong case to be made that she is actually a humanitarian, not a villain. 

Sean: Oh me too. She is a hero who tries to kill Patrick. The only beef I have with her is her homophobia, but meh.

Kristine: Eh, she’s only a homophobe cause she can’t let her lesbian labia get licked. For the record? I hated Kathy.

Sean: She wasn’t the best, but let me say this. I’ve been trying to think about why this film is interesting besides the obvious WTF factors, and I guess, for me, the thing that’s interesting about it is how it fits in with one of the themes of 1970s horror that I find most fascinating: women in the workplace. I keep thinking about The Exorcist and about The Stepford Wives and just the general trend in ’70s horror to set up a dichotomy involving working women vs. domestic spaces.

Kristine: Agreed. 

Sean: That, for me, is the only interesting lens through which to think about Kathy. Though I do like how the movie sort of doesn’t judge her for double-dating, even if she is subjected to putrid rapist behavior by her estranged husband and doesn’t seem that bothered by it.

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Kathy gently explains, “Rape doesn’t feel good, honey.”

Kristine: Okay, I wanted to like Kathy. I liked her moving out of her comfy but oppressive suburban wife existence and getting herself a scrappy flat and a job and being sexually open and skeptical and rebellious against authority figures. But she just did not work for me. Also, the “rape fantasy” scene was too weird, and overall I just found that actress a total meh with terrible hair. And it was implausible that all these dudes were all about her (estranged husband, Doctor Playboy, Patrick). But I think the movie did a good job at presenting the obstacles she faces when she tries to liberate herself. 

Sean: Total memories of Alison in The Sentinel being like, “I want to be on my own!” 

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Kathy and Alison are cut from very similar cloth. But I was annoyed at Kathy’s predilection for Patrick and her maternal instincts being awoken by him, though I did love the sexual perversity of the movie with all the mother/lover incest vibes.

Kristine: I think the movie is interesting because it does an amazing job at creating atmosphere and mood, without going full-on obvious gothic.  Especially by using diverse camera work. Do you want my examples? 

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: 1. Matron Cassidy always being shot from below when she is delivering one of her many creepy lectures to Kathy. It adds to the message that Cassidy is this oppressive, all-powerful figure (“I am Boss Cocky in this hospital,” “I can terminate you for no cause,” etc) even though as the film progresses we see that she clearly ISN’T. She is at the mercy of Doctor Roget’s craziness and Patrick’s powers. Which is an interesting tie-in back to your point about “women in the workplace” in 1970s horror. 2. All the visual “danger” cues – when Kathy is first walking up to the hospital and there is a wide overheard shot showing “DO NOT ENTER” painted hugely on the street. It sounds super obvious and dumb on paper, but it was actually cool and effective in execution. Same with all the wildly swinging overhead fixtures and other visual cues that this place is not safe and bad shit is going down. 

Sean: Yeah and that broken emergency sign on the fritz.

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Could so easily be an outtake from a Phil Collins video

Kristine: Yes to the emergency sign. And 3. Loved loved loved the opening shot of Patrick’s mother and her man-date fornicating and it being reflected in the metal knob of the bed post that is banging against the shared wall with Patrick’s bedroom. I feel like Richard Franklin, the director, and his team employed really canny and effective techniques to communicate a consistent tone of dread and creepiness.

Sean: I agree that the movie has some basic gothic tropes but they’re relatively subtle background details that don’t overwhelm the mood or tone of the movie. In particular, the hospital where Patrick lives is a classic Gothic space. And I totally agree that Roget, the mad scientist/patriarch, is really in control, so Matron Cassidy’s power is purely symbolic (shades of The Devils there, another 1970s movie about patriarchal control and the problems with “liberated” women).

Kristine: Yes. Good reference. Agreed. And how Kathy needs to get men to vouch for her so she is believed/taken seriously. Sean, I adored Capt. Fraser popping out of his room at inopportune moments and freaking everyone the fuck out. 

Sean: Yes, he made me laugh. Again, that detail sounds trite on paper but it is executed perfectly in the movie.

Kristine: But the movie sucks cause in the end, Kathy does need the men. Or Patrick would have convinced her to “join” him in death, right?

Sean: I thought she was going to be the hero and defeat Patrick on her own but… no. She needs rapist hubby to save her. Hated it.

Kristine: Yeah, me, too.

Sean: Rapist hubby was not hot, to add insult to injury.

Kristine: Not hot.

Sean: I was dying when the women were drooling over that ugly doctor who gets drowned in the pool.

Kristine: All the men were gross, let’s be real. 

Sean: That pool sequence, btw, was beyond stupid.

Kristine: Remember his, like, gauzy Guatemalan top when he and “Kat” are having dinner? He was pukes. Also hated how Kathy was all about her ex after he made her a tuna casserole (barf) and bought her a sports car. 

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Those flowers DO NOT hide the fact that you pooped on the floor, sir

Sean: The best is when hubby is trapped in the elevator and there is like, poop in the corner. I was dying.

Kristine: I loved the elevator prison. What did Patrick say about it? Tied up, boxed up, hung up”? Something like that. Patrick was kind of right about like 80% of the time.

Sean: So… Was Patrick scary? 

Kristine: Yes. Patrick was very scary. 

Sean: Can we discuss… the monobrow? 

Kristine: When Kath was shaving him, I was chanting at the TV, “Pluck those brows! Pluck those brows!” I did find the stuff about the life force leaving the body and whether comatose patients have any awareness or not to be pretty compelling.

Sean: See, I thought all that hoopla about the soul was a yawn. I just wanted more of Patrick hawking semen-like loogies on people’s faces. Patrick’s sexuality, and his coma-stiffies, were like…. killing me.

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Patrick’s mouth-semen moisturizes and exfoliates

Kristine: I loved Patrick spooging on people, hilarious. So insouciant. My boyfriend watched this with me and we kept saying, “Patrick’s ready for his hand job” over and over and dying. Gross to all that.

Sean: Kathy stroking him off while the doctor watched? Pervy. I love the movie’s perviness a lot.

Kristine: Hee hee. He commanded her to do it. I would like to say that it It seemed incongruous to me that Kathy read Patrick’s sexuality so clearly when she was such a dummy about everything else. 

Sean: Cuz she was his mommy/mistress. This is the Australian version of A Farewell to Arms.

Kristine: Also, I thought her frustration with him was a believable nurse/patient thing. When she slaps him and then is immediately horrified and regretful? I think that is real. Also real for mommy/child, but still… 

Sean: So, is Kathy going to go back to being an obedient housewife or is she going to stay a working gal? 

Kristine: Oh, she goes back to housewife, don’t you think?

Sean: Yes and it makes me really mad.

Kristine: She went out on her own, and umm…it didn’t work out so well, did it? If hubby hadn’t turned up she would be done for. She didn’t actually have any power over Patrick, or much power at all to speak of. By the end of the movie you realize, she’s just been a pawn in all these mens’ games. It’s gross.

Sean: FYI, the same screenwriter wrote this and Razorback and both are pretty lugheadedly sexist.

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Crispy Sister

Kristine: Well, he is a sexist ugh. Hate. Bear in mind that the other professional female, Matron Cassidy, also fares very poorly… I did love that image of her all fried to hell and melded to the fusebox though. In her white, red and blue uniform? It felt very Dario Argento, actually.

Sean: Yes. Though I was mad that she bit it because she was my hero.

Kristine: Face it, Matron was the best character. 

Sean: Followed by Patrick’s penis.

Kristine: Yeah. My bf loved Dr. Roget’s craziness, but I loved Matron’s bitter dyke schtick and her righteousness. I also found her fear of Room 15 very real and scary.

Sean: Ok, Roget paralyzing that frog? 

Kristine: Oh God Sean. I couldn’t with that. 

Sean: That was the most upsetting thing ever. “I’m destroying the brain”?

Kristine: The worst part of that? Him just leaving the room and leaving dead frog on the floor. 

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Just left it

Sean: Hahahahaa. He left it for baby Kathy to clean up.

Kristine: And that he apparently gets weekly deliveries of frogs for his demonstrations and snacks. Roget eating that smashed frog… “Patrick made me do it.” I was dying. I am dead now. 

Sean: Yes, those little touches are the gonzo details that make me love this movie. That mushed-up frog was disgusting.

Kristine: Disgusting. I did like Patrick’s mischievousness. It underscores what Kathy said about his arrested development.

Sean: Patrick writing filth to Kathy on the typewriter made me happy. 

Kristine: Get stuffed, Sean. 

Sean: She did kind of wanna fuck Patrick, right? 

Kristine: Oh, totally. Again, I think that is an uncomfortable reality of the nurses/patients or mommy/children dynamics, and I wish the movie had explored it more fully. 

Sean: I fully expected her to shove her nipple in his mouth.

Kristine: So, is Patrick evil? What is it Roget says about him? 

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Patrick hears that Jenny McCarthy is joining The View

Sean: Which? 

Kristine: Something about Patrick being an evil that nothing can change. 

Sean: Yes, Patrick is evil. I mean, he’s pure id right? He’s a definite trickster figure, like a psychotic, perverted Bart Simpson.

Kristine: I love it. But is that the same as evil? I think he is, as you say, pure id. But I think Dr. Roget is more the villain.

Sean: I can see that. But Roget had some seriously great line deliveries. Like, “No the Matron thinks it’s bullshit, tell me when he moves his bowels.”

Kristine: I loved that, too. 

Sean: He was funny.

Kristine: I loved all the darkly comic moments. Like, “Wait here, Patrick.” I was giggling at the nasty humor throughout the movie. 

Sean: So, does this movie being set in Australia like…. matter? Why is this considered an “Ozploitation” film when it’s really just a horror movie made in Oz? 

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Hot wig

Kristine: Of all the Aussie movies we’ve watched, I was the least aware of the Australian setting in this. In Picnic at Hanging Rock and Razorback and Wolf Creek the horror was inextricably bound up with a sense of place. But Patrick seems less about place and more about character, right? I think Kathy’s storyline and struggles are universal. And I don’t think that Patrick himself feels like a uniquely Australian “monster,” which the Rock and the pig and Mick all were. What do you think?  Did anything seem uniquely Australian to you?

Sean: I mean, I did think this movie felt like a kind of social document of women returning to the workforce, of the tensions between domesticity and traditional gender norms and the “new Australia” and stuff…. Richard Franklin cut his teeth making sex farces, which seem like they were a big part of the modernization of Australia in the 1970s, and then he transitions to Patrick. Also, notably, Patrick bombed in Australia but was a huge hit overseas. But I think you’re right that it’s less about the setting and more about the story and the characters.

Kristine: But a totally flawed and unsatisfying social document. Kathy goes from all ballsy and confident to utterly defeated, cowed, and grateful to go back to her man. Who is an elevator pooper.

Sean: Oh yes, this movie is a tool of social control. It’s like, “You uppity bitches, Patrick is waiting to rape you if you go to work.” I did like the irony of Hubby getting all severely burned by dinner though.

Kristine: Was there some sort of significance to how Patrick made his male victims lose the feeling in their hands first when he began his mission to kill them? I didn’t really get that… is he trying to make them into non-feeling coma boys like him or something? 

Sean: I don’t know, honestly. Maybe just…. making them impotent in all kinds of ways. Isn’t your greatest fear now that if you’re ever hospitalized for something you will look over and realize that your roommate is… Patrick!?

Kristine: Oh god, it probably will happen.

Sean: Just fyi, Kristine? You will be expected to keep the eyes bathed and lubricated.

Kristine: Shut it!

Sean: Lube ’em up, baby.

Kristine: Never.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: This movie either has too many ideas or not enough. I don’t know which and I am too depressed to figure it out AND Better and weirder than I expected.

The Freak’s Rating:  Total trash! I loved it.

Sign above Patrick's bumhole
Sign above Patrick’s bumhole